The Way: Film Review

The film comes off more as an amiable travelogue than a fully realized feature.

Emilio Estevez's "The Way" is an earnest film, its heart always in the right place, but it's severely under dramatized.

TORONTO -- Emilio Estevez's The Way is an earnest film, its heart always in the right place, but it's severely under dramatized. Consequently, the film comes off more as an amiable travelogue than a fully realized feature. With his father, Martin Sheen, heading a talented cast, Estevez's film stands a chance for a limited domestic release although the film may be more at home on television or as a DVD.

The story sends four Catholic pilgrims down the Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James, a spiritual journey of hundreds of miles undertaken annually by trekkers to a Pilgrims' Mass held at noon each day at a cathedral in northwestern Spain.

The four meet and form a traveling companionship by chance although the film's focus is on Sheen's character, Tom. A Santa Barbara opthamologist and widower, Tom comes to the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port to collect the remains of his only son (Estevez), who died in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino. The distraught father decides to undertake the journey himself despite being something of a lapsed Catholic.

Along the way, he reluctantly acquires as traveling companions a free-spirited Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), who naturally takes and sells drugs; an Irishman (James Nesbitt), who naturally drinks heavily and is "blocked" as a writer; and a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger), who doesn't do anything naturally Canadian but is extremely bitter about life.

For that matter, Tom out does the Canadian in the bitterness department. His son's death, of course, contributes to his sourness. Yet the film wants the journey to force all its characters to come to terms with the disappointments in their lives. So what ails Tom?

Estevez, who bases his screenplay in part on Jack Hitt's book, "Of the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route in "Spain," never makes up his mind. The film initially depicts Tom in Santa Barbara as an affable though physically lazy physician who gets out of his golf cart only to drive the ball down the fairway. In Spain, he suddenly is morose and tart yet strides down the Camino well ahead of his companions. He doesn't seem to be the same man, mentally or physically.

While their moods can swing up and down, the four travelers pretty much enjoy themselves, eating and drinking their way across a picturesque route through small villages and pilgrim guest houses. You can't help enjoying the sounds and sights yet yearn for dramatic developments. All you get is Tom nearly losing his son's backpack, which contains his ashes, not once but twice.

It seems obvious the film should be about a father growing closer to understanding his estranged son after his death, but Estevez pretty much ignores the obvious. He steps from behind the camera now and then so Tom may "see" his ghostly son traveling with him. However, Estevez never permits Tom any deeper insight into their troubled relationship or epiphany about his own life. The nature of their estrangement is never even disclosed.

So the movie ambles along, never going more than skin deep into any of its characters' psyches. The journey is never a dull although at 129 minutes it's an unnecessarily long. Estevez's crew does nothing to spoil the scenery or snap-shots of life along the Camino de Santiago. At least the Irish writer gets over his writer's block. You only wish the same might have happened to Estevez.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Elixir Films/Filmax Entertainment
Cast: Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick Van Wageningen, James Nesbitt, Tcheky Karyo
Director/screenwriter: Emilio Estevez
Based in part on a book by: Jack Hirt
Producer: Emilio Estevez, David Alexanian, Julio Fernandez
Executive producers: Alberto Marini, Stewart Till, Ramon Gerard Estevez, Janet Templeton
Director of photography: Juan Miguel Azpiroz
Production designer: Victor Molero
Music: Tyler Bates
Costume designer: Tatiana Hernandez
Editor: Raul Davalos
Sales: Icon Entertainment
No rating, 129 minutes